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High Tech Kona Coffee Farming
20 December 2010

Cleric Seventh grade, that's when I discovered Dungeons & Dragons.  I had discovered girls too but D&D was a strong competitor for my attention.  In eighth grade I discovered computers.  I wanted to use my computer to get girls but couldn't figure out how.  Instead, I figured out how to use my computer for playing D&D.

I spent hours and hours writing a Dungeons & Dragons character generator on my Commodore Vic20.  As simple as the program was, it was too complex for that little computer so I had to write the program in multiple parts.  When loading the next part of the program from the tape drive, the only safe place I could find to store saved data was in video memory.  That meant the screen showed all the saved data.  I wanted the data to stay "secret" so I hid it from the user by writing white letters on a white background.  Once the next portion of the program was loaded, I retrieved the data from the screen and continued with the next portion of the character generator.  It was a clunky hack but it worked.

After high school I got my degree in computer science then got a job as a computer game programmer.  As computers grew more powerful and complex, I learned things like 3D graphics programming and multiplayer network programming.  It was a great career until I got tired of it and decided to try Kona coffee farming instead.

Today there are games like Everquest and Warcraft that are so fun and realistic they can be addictive.  The latest new gizmo is the Kinect, a consumer-level device with 3D motion capture, facial recognition and voice recognition capabilities.  Those are all technologies I could only dream about back when I was making games.  It's almost enough to make me want to get back into game programming.

Kona coffee farming keeps me too busy for things like D&D or computer games.  I do still spend a lot of time on the computer though.  When not outside working on the farm, I'm usually inside working on the website.  From CSS to SSL, a good website is deceptively complex.  There are entire books written on the subject.  One such book that I highly recommend is "Effortless E-Commerce with PHP and MySQL" by Larry Ullman.

ECommerce When I was first developing the Kona Earth website I could have really used a good book like this.  Even though I am an experienced programmer, and my website already does most things covered in the book, the book is so packed with good info that I plan on rewriting some major parts of my code.

Kona Coffee One of the examples in the book is a website that sells coffee.  In fact, if you look real close at figure 7.2 you'll probably recognize the Kona coffee being sold.  I'm proud to have my name mentioned in the thanks on the first page.  I won't claim to have helped much with the book.  My biggest contribution was providing feedback.  Larry definitely helped me more than I helped him.  That's why he received some free Kona Earth coffee.  If you write such a helpful, informative book then I'll send you some free coffee too.

Having a good website is vital when trying to sell Kona coffee online.  Developing and running KonaEarth.com takes a significant portion of my time.  Beyond selling coffee, I've extended the website to help with coffee picking records and coffee farm finances.  The more I automate on the computer, the more time and money it saves us in the long run.  At least that's the theory.  As a programmer, I sometimes get a little too involved with my latest "important" project.

I've recently been "working" with a program called Google SketchUp.  It's a 3D modeling program that is amazingly intuitive yet powerful.  Back when I was making computer games I would have loved a simple 3D editor like SketchUp.  It's not as powerful as 3DStudio Max or AutoCad but it sure is easier to learn.  I even found some people using SketchUp for Dungeons & Dragons.  Now that's cool!  It makes me want to model my favorite dungeon in 3D, use a 3D printer to make a physical copy of it, then stock it with my old collection of orcs, trolls, dwarves and other D&D miniatures.

As cool as it would be to have a model of Mordor, that probably won't make it to the top of my To-Do list any time soon.  My most recent project is a coffee dryer and I've been using Google Sketchup to try out different designs.  I wish I had known about Google SketchUp back when I was designing my barn.  I would have really helped when trying to figure out where to put the coffee pulper, designing the coffee storage room, visualizing my new office or any of the other zillion projects I have around the farm.

I'll talk more about my coffee dryer design after I figure things out a bit more.  Drying coffee correctly is a delicate process that can be very labor intensive.  Even with a large coffee drying deck, it's still not easy.  Large commercial dryers are about $20,000 and have to be imported from Central or South America.  The hope is that I'll be able to design my own dryer that is less expensive, more efficient and still manages to be delicate with the coffee.  There's a fine line between drying the coffee and cooking the coffee.

I've already spent hours with a spreadsheet crunching the numbers for things like BTU's and airflow resistance.  I have a 3D model of the barn so I can compare it with 3D models of dryer ideas.  I found a couple papers and a Master's thesis on the subject.  I also found a source with complete formulas for drying coffee parchment so I could write a computer simulation of the entire drying process.  Then I could write a genetic algorithm to find the most efficient dryer design.  After that I could program some robots to build the dryer for me.  Those same robots should also know how to stir the coffee.  Then all I'll have to do is teach them to pick coffee and I'll really be set.

So much programming to do and so little time.  Good thing I have lots of good Kona coffee to keep me going.


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